Gruwell attracts 1,200 at VC Lyceum Lecture Series opener
Erin Gruwell speaks during Tuesday’s Victoria College Lyceum Lecture at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

Victoria College’s 2016-17 Lyceum Lecture Series kicked off Tuesday with approximately 1,200 people convening at the Victoria Fine Arts Center to hear educator Erin Gruwell challenging educators and students with “Becoming a Catalyst for Change.”

Gruwell, whose unique teaching style inspired the New York Times Bestseller “The Freedom Writers Diary” and 2007 motion picture “Freedom Writers,” described what motivated her to become an educator and help inner-city high school students express themselves about the issues that they face on a daily basis. Gruwell said she originally wanted to become a lawyer until she witnessed an iconic moment on live television.

“There was this moment when I turned on the TV and there was this kid and he was standing in front of Tiananmen Square,” Gruwell told the audience. “We have all seen that vision. There is this kid standing in front of a tank and this tank gets closer and closer. What is he standing up against? Whether it was democracy or the right to an education, whatever it was, it was bigger. … At that moment, I realized I never stood up to anything or anyone. I went to the right schools. I played the right sports. I joined the right clubs.

“I realized then I didn’t want to stand up in courtroom before a judge and a jury, because then it’s too late. I made the decision that I was going to become a teacher in an inner-city school.”

Gruwell said educators must get past stereotypes to bridge the gap between students and teachers.

“You have to make learning personal to make it relevant,” Gruwell said.

Gruwell taught freshman English at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California. She engaged her students in learning by challenging them to overcome their obstacles by becoming “Catalysts for Change.”

“Most of the students hated school,” Gruwell said. “My first day, I went to my classroom. There were no textbooks. There was no technology. What I quickly realized was my students were miserable. Their sole purpose was to make me as miserable as they were, and they did a really good job.”

Gruwell was eventually able to gain the trust of her students and encouraged them to write about gang violence, drug abuse, physical abuse and other hardships high school students endure. All of Gruwell’s “Freedom Writers” graduated from high school in 1998. Her students’ journals led to the 1999 publication of “The Freedom Writers Diary.”

Gruwell’s appearance was presented in part by the Victoria Independent School District, and about 600 VISD teachers attended the event as a part of a district-wide professional development day.

Victoria College’s 2016-17 Lyceum Lecture Series will continue on Monday, Oct. 17 at 6 p.m. with Graeme Wood, the Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who will speak at the Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts on “What ISIS Really Wants.”

The series will conclude on Tuesday, April 4 at VC’s Sports Center as language creator David J. Peterson will present “The Art of Language Intervention” at 12:30 p.m.
Erin Gruwell smiles during her presentation of “Becoming a Catalyst for Change” at the Victoria Fine Arts Center on Tuesday.
Published: Wednesday, 21 September 2016

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